Bacterial toxin-antitoxin (TA) systems are genetic elements, which are encoded by plasmid as well as chromosomal loci. They mediate plasmid and genomic island maintenance through post-segregational killing mechanisms but may also have milder effects, acting as mobile stress response systems that help certain cells of a population in persisting adverse growth conditions. Very few cyanobacterial TA system have been characterized thus far. In this work, we focus on the cyanobacterium Synechocystis 6803, a widely used model organism. We expand the number of putative Type II TA systems from 36 to 69 plus seven stand-alone components. Forty-seven TA pairs are located on the chromosome and 22 are plasmid-located. Different types of toxins are associated with various antitoxins in a mix and match principle. According to protein domains and experimental data, 81% of all toxins in Synechocystis 6803 likely exhibit RNase activity, suggesting extensive potential for toxicity-related RNA degradation and toxin-mediated transcriptome remodeling. Of particular interest is the Ssr8013-Slr8014 system encoded on plasmid pSYSG, which is part of a larger defense island or the pSYSX system Slr6056-Slr6057, which is linked to a bacterial ubiquitin-like system. Consequently, Synechocystis 6803 is one of the most prolific sources of new information about these genetic elements.
Keywords: PIN-domain; RNA degradation; RNA interferase; RNA turnover; VapC; bacterial toxins; cibonuclease; cyanobacteria; hydrogenase; toxin–antitoxin.